An Interview with Andy Paris and Tectonic Executive Director Greg Reiner

15 Feb

Following our recent workshop of Andy Paris’ new play, “Square Peg Round Hole,” which deals with people living on the autism spectrum, Tectonic Theater Project Executive Director Greg Reiner sat down with Company Member Andy Paris to discuss the play, and the next steps in the development of the work.

Greg: Tell me about your week when you did the workshop, just kind of summarize how that process worked.

Andy:  To prepare for the workshop, Anushka Carter, who is co-writing the piece, Sarah Martin, who is designing and myself collected a number of things, props that we felt were related to what we were doing, some portable lighting instruments, and some other elements, and it was very important to have those things in the room from day one. And we also collected some texts that we had been looking at from all the interviews we had been doing and from all the writing we had been doing. So we collected all those things into a room, with some actors, and started doing Moment Work, which is, of course, the process that Tectonic has developed over these may years; a technique for theatrical exploration that stems from ideas, rather than a preexisting story. And it’s a practical workshop, so we’re always working with the text and with the space and with the props to find out what’s resonating most strongly with us.

G: And as you move through the week, doing this process, how does it start to evolve into the Moments that we actually saw presented on Friday?

A: Little glimmers of things, here and there start to occur, and they kind of get picked out of other Moments, and then layered together. What strikes us as powerful, we kind of keep along the way, and we throw the rest away, or store it for the future. So the Moments we end up with at the end of a workshop are usually some sort of layering, or conglomeration, of the little gems that we found during the week.

G: One of the things that I thought was so powerful when we did the presentation on Friday was hearing how many personal stories there were from people who were touched by this in the audience. How does- you know, when we do our process, the audience is so involved in the development of our workshops- how did hearing from them affect your next steps of your own process?

A: It’s inspirational, in the sense that, autism affects so many people, and now that we’ve learned to recognize it, and call it for what it is, everybody is starting to recognize it in their own lives. And autism didn’t just spring up, but rather it’s something that’s always been there, and we just never really knew what it was, and never knew to recognize it. And so now that we do, it’s just inspirational to see how many people this touches, and it really gives us a push to keep going.

G: What surprised you during the week, that you weren’t expecting to find?

A: I’m always surprised and exhilarated by what the actors will bring, because, you know, you collect a bunch of people in a room, they are usually new to the material, and yet they were all so touched by the material, and brought to it so much of their own personal stories, and themselves, and things that they found that they were able to bring into the process, and it gave it a lot of texture.

G: That actress who did the thing with the numbers- is she… actually autistic herself? How did she DO that? That was crazy!

A: Yeah, well, she is a really good actress. That thing that she does, with balancing the numbers, that’s something that she’s always just done. She’s always had-

G: Was that something that she brought in, or was that something that…?

A: She brought in that process of balancing the numbers of addresses. A lot of people play with numbers in certain ways, a lot of people don’t even realize it. But the interesting thing about that moment, and the way that it developed throughout the week, and she played it so well, is that just playing with numbers is not necessarily an autistic trait, but there was that point where she got stuck, where she couldn’t balance the numbers of the address, and it started to bother her. And even though that can bother anybody, there’s a line she crossed in her reaction to being stuck where as an audience member you can recognize, wow, that’s not a typical reaction that someone would have to being stuck because they can’t balance numbers, she’s starting to move in a very unnatural manner, she’s starting to rock, she’s raking her arms with her fingernails, and all of these mannerisms transformed into an autistic meltdown. One of the things we were playing with, and one of the things that moment evoked so strongly was that, yes, these are all human traits that we’re talking about, traits that every human being possesses, but they’re found in such clusters, and emphasized in a certain way, that it manifests as atypical behavior. So she crossed that line and it was interesting to sense the change of temperature in the room when people felt her cross that line.

G: What’s next?

A: We learned a lot from our first workshop. I think we gained a lot of momentum, in finally getting in the room and working with this material, and so we’re hoping to carry that momentum further. We have a really strong idea of some things that are working, and we want to exploit those things, and there are thing that we weren’t able to touch on, that we want to get to, so we’re still gathering some more research and we’re also going over what we learned, and we’re going to do more interviews, do more reading, talk to some more people, and keep progressing until we get to our next workshop.

G: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you were hoping I would?

A: The only thing I will add, is that because of the nature of autism, and because the nature of autistics, who tend toward a lot of engineering and technology, we want that to become a really big part of the show and that was something that we weren’t able to employ in the first workshop. And so one of the things we are really hoping to do between now and the next workshop is figure out how to gain our own technical experience and engineering experience and knowledge, and try to exploit that in a theatrical way.


The Stein Collection at the Metropolitan Museum

9 Feb

From Tectonic Theater Project Artistic Director Moisés Kaufman:

I saw this exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and it’s truly magnificent. The paintings Gertrude Stein had in her house from the artists she supported (Picasso, Matisse, etc) are a testament to her spectacular eye for recognizing and nurturing genius! Going to the exhibit is like visiting her home. Go!


The Stein Collection

The Apology Blog- a new project by Greg Pierotti

7 Feb

I am currently writing a play about the life and work of Allan Bridge, who collected apologies on his home answering machine for 15 years, from 1980 to 1995. After three years he began to compile a program of the best of the last two week’s calls, which he played on his outgoing message and changed biweekly. At that point people started leaving messages and comments for each other and, 10 years before AOL made it everyday, a virtual community called The Apology Line was born. I am the co-author of three other plays: “The Laramie Project”, “Laramie: 10 Years Later”, and “The People’s Temple.”

In October 1980, Allan Bridge put posters all over New York City that read: “Attention criminals! You have wronged people and it is to people you must apologize. Not the church. Not the state. Call Apology and get your misdeeds off your chest. When you call you will be alone with a tape recorder.” What would you apologize for?


Over the years a number of callers made commentary on Richie.  The extremity of Richie’s claims gave rise to very personal revelations from other caller’s and rich discussions on responsibility, empathy, trauma, religion and all sorts of things.  Alison was one such commentator.Alison: Um, this is the person who recommended “For your Good,” I’m glad you got the book, Alice Miller has a lot to say to the world. I’m curious as to what Richie can remember that makes his childhood quote unquote normal. It was striking to me to hear Richie say he had a mother that didn’t care and a father who wasn’t there, because I had a mother who didn’t care and a father who wasn’t there. And uh I also can’t remember anything before the time I was 8. I walked around for years going, “What’s wrong with me? I had a mother that didn’t care and a father who wasn’t there. Well, so what?”  You find out little insignificant things.  I found out from my mother that every time I cried she would put me in another room.  People go “that doesn’t matter, you were only a baby” but babies are feeling things. I don’t hear Richie feel anything, uh, if he felt something, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.It’s really heartbreaking that there are people who can’t feel. I remember I time when I couldn’t feel. Just frenzy and panic – I guess frenzy and panic could be called feeling, but I was completely numbed out. I was drunk a lot, stoned. Self mutilation when I was drinking and drugging. I didn’t feel that either. Now when I do it, I am clear that it’s about feeling something.  It’s difficult thing to learn how to feel. Especially when there’s so much pain. I feel like there’s an enormous amount of panic in Richie’s life. (big sigh) oh my… it strikes me that he has to do something SO outrageous, trap and maim other people, in order to feel. I’ve never heard him speak about getting pleasure in any other way. Is this the only way that he can feel? You are cleansed of all emotion, checked out, you can talk about it, that’s the exchange that humans have and that’s considered quote unquote normal, but the feeling is not there. I mean, Richie, being quote unquote a city boy, do you take pleasure in the city, like (sigh) central park or when it rains, uh, the skyline, things in the city that a person inside makes them happy or pleased, and do you feel pleased in the city, um, does a good meal please you. I’m beginning to wonder if you [even] taste. Are there things that make you cry? I mean, seems like you have the, the coldest hardest heart I’ve ever heard, and it takes a lot of truth telling to thaw it out. Um, Scott Peck, and I know a lot of people consider him very fru-fru pop-psychologist guy, but he has a very interesting definition of evil, and that is a person who compulsively lies. A feeling human being would say it’s wrong, I can’t do it, because it’s gonna cause somebody else pain.  But because Richie’s hooked up inside so that this is where he gets his jollies, somehow he’s got it worked out so that he can say well maybe it’s wrong, but so what? I mean I have things hooked up inside, where I get my jollies, but I don’t do them because they would hurt other people (sigh). I don’t do it because I feel empathy or compassion or something, I feel SOMETHING.

 –Greg Pierotti, Tectonic Theater Project company member

Kerry St. Pe

26 Dec

This is Kerry St. Pe, a life long resident of Louisiana and a scientist who has spent his whole life fighting against oil pollution.

In this interview, Kerry has taken us out in his boat. He wants us to see what was once a thriving forest, a place where he played, camped and fished in his youth.

The “forest” is now a collection of dying trees, the result of the rapid land loss affecting this area.

Kerry wants us to see for ourselves that the south coast of Louisiana is in peril. The marshland is disappearing at a rate of about a football field every 20 minutes.

Kerry explains to us that this is due to man-made factors: the shipping industry, oil pipeline canals, and levees along the Mississippi, as well as sea level rise associated with climate change.

At current estimates Kerry tells us, the land it took the Mississippi 7,000 years to build will be gone in 75.

The BP oil spill compounded the already urgent environmental challenges facing this area. The people were devastated by the spill in part because the oil further damaged the coastline.

SPILL: a play and art installation will recount the dramatic story of the BP oil spill, but it will also take a close look at the environmental future of the south coast of Louisiana.

Louisiana is in many ways a Bellwether of things to come. Where Louisiana goes environmentally, so goes the rest of the country.

Find SPILL on USA Projects

–Leigh Fondakowski

SH*T Non Profit Arts Administrators Say

22 Dec

In the spirit of the latest internet meme, as seen here,  and here, among others  (and the fact that it’s a ghost town around here today), we present our list of Sh*t nonprofit arts administrators say. We originally wrote these up with the intent of making our own video response, but none of us showed up to the office “camera ready” today, and besides, there’s a reason we like to work behind the scenes!

Let us know what you think of these, and add your own to the comments section. Happy Holidays!!

The show is $5,000 over budget?

I already told her we can’t get house seats to Book of Mormon.

(on the phone) What’s the email address to request house seats to Mamma Mia?

He’s totally gay. I saw him on grindr

Omg did you see this video on youtube of a cat putting a baby to sleep?

 I’ve GOT to get this filing done today!

 I have rosé!

 The show is $10,000 over budget?

Do we have to let him thank Jesus in his bio?

We could get a bigger rehearsal space if we rent a place in Brooklyn.

 If I take the first two words from the first sentence of the review and use ellipses to cut it together with three words from the fourth paragraph and half a sentence from the last paragraph I can make it sound like he loved the show!

Ugh, it’s spelled “E-R” not “R-E”

Ugh, it’s spelled “R-E” not “E-R”

You didn’t hear? Everyone’s talking about it on “2amt”

The show is  $20,000 over budget?

Did any checks come in today’s mail?

(on the phone) “What’s our outstanding balance? I’ll look for the invoice, it must have gotten lost in my mail pile”

They’re on day TWO of tech and they haven’t gotten past the first scene. 

I looked up their 990 on Guidestar. Can you believe how much their Artistic Director makes?


20 Dec

I was the head writer of “The Laramie Project.” I worked with Moises and the company over the course of year to interview the people of Laramie, Wyoming in the aftermath of the brutal beating and death of Matthew Shepard. Through that process, I learned so much about the power of the theater to examine the important stories of our time.

My latest work is a play and art installation based on interviews with the people of the Gulf coast of Louisiana in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil spill.

Contrary to the tourism ads promoted by BP that all is back to normal after the spill, the people of the Gulf are still suffering.
The full environmental impact is still be being unraveled.

And the largest civil litigation trial in United States history is set to begin in February involving the major players BP, Transocean, and Halliburton among others.

Eleven men lost their lives in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, many others were seriously injured—their lives will never be the same again.

The fishing communities along the coast are still waiting to settle financially with BP for loss of their livelihood.

And the entire Gulf coast continues to be under siege environmentally as they literally lose the land under their feet due to coastal erosion.

The BP oil spill was one battle in an environmental war that is raging along the Gulf coast.

Our play and installation will give a human face and voice to this story.

We are on a search right now for answers: what led to this disaster, what the long-term environmental and economic impact will be for the people who live in the Gulf, and clues to what one interviewee called Louisiana’s “unholy relationship with the oil industry.”

Please take a look at our funding video on USA Projects. We have a time sensitive campaign on line right now with only 10 days remaining to reach our goal.

And please help us spread the word if you can. This is a work of art that can help shape public dialogue and opinion on the crucial environmental issues that affect us all.

SPILL- Click here for more info

–Leigh Fondakowski, playwright, director, and member of Tectonic Theater Project